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Sir Archibald Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell) : I welcome the Bill. I am pretty sure that I would not have done so 10 years ago, but I believe that the international security position has changed dramatically since then. I feel that we can now risk greater openness in regard to the operations of our intelligence services, for there is no doubt that a degree of risk is involved in appointing any kind of parliamentary committee to oversee their activities.
Despite the disintegration of the Soviet threat, other threats are emerging --not the least being terrorism, the expansion of the drug trade and the failure of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We must face up to that failure. As a Minister, I had to say that the treaty was working very well, but I do not really believe that ; I believe that it has been a failure in general. Alarmingly, it does not seem to be stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world : many nations are acquiring a nuclear capability. I am also concerned to note that, despite the efforts of our intelligence services, we do not seem to know the details of other countries' nuclear weapon-developing capabilities. At the beginning of the Gulf war, an assessment suggested that Iraq was still 10 years away from nuclear capability ; after the war, when we were able to probe deeply into the whole operation, we found that the country was within 12 months of being able to produce nuclear weapons. That is very alarming, and suggests that our assessments of other countries may be proved inaccurate as well : they may be much nearer to nuclear capability than we think.
It must be right to put security and intelligence service employees on to a statutory basis. I am very pleased that they feel comfortable with the Bill, which will make their duties much clearer and less equivocal. Let me echo my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr.King) in stressing the risks and threats involved in the work of many of those employees : some risk their lives for little return, material or otherwise. We owe them a great debt. It is easy to be harshly critical of intelligence service workers, and to believe any malicious rumours that may be circulating ;
Column 183they are in an extremely difficult position, in that they cannot defend themselves publicly. The Bill, to some extent, recognises the debt that we owe them.
It is important that GCHQ is being brought under the statutory umbrella. Given the technical nature of its operations and its relatively small interface with the public, I doubt whether it will produce many problems. I suspect that the secret intelligence services are in a rather different category, in that there will always be people who feel that they are being victimised in one way or another by those services. There is bound to be a constant stream of complaints, imaginary or otherwise. That problem must be dealt with, but I think that the Bill does so to some extent.
It is excellent that we are putting the whole business of the Foreign Secretary's issue of warrants on to a statutory basis, and that his authorisation of intelligence operations is being put on a more sensible footing. It must be right to appoint a
commissioner--much along the lines proposed in the Security Service Act 1989--to examine the question of warrants and authorisations, and to allow the tribunal to investigate complaints. I feel strongly that the investigation of complaints should be the task of the tribunal. It has some powers to deal with such matters, but not enough, and it is sensible to place the onus there. I should be concerned if it were shifted to a parliamentary committee which is not in the position--or should not put itself into a position--of having to handle such matters.
It has already been pointed out that the tribunal has not the power to compel witnesses to attend, or to call for papers. Perhaps the Ministers will consider giving it extra powers ; we should feel very much more comfortable if it had them.
I come now to the question of the committee of parliamentarians and the great debate as to whether its members should be Privy Councillors. It will obviously be of great benefit to keep the committee relatively small. The more members the committee has, the more likely it is that leaks or mistakes will be made by Members of Parliament--who, let us face it, are not renowned for their discretion. Briefing the press seems to occupy most of the daylight hours of many of my colleagues. It will be quite a cultural change for them to become involved in any part of the Government's activities in which people are not briefing the press day and night. The smaller the committee is, therefore, the more likely it is to be secure. There seems to be an almost direct relationship between the size of a committee and the likelihood that it will operate in a reasonably secure way.
The establishment of the committee will be a useful step towards parliamentary scrutiny and will, to some extent, meet the criticisms of people who are worried that the security services have been operating with no parliamentary oversight.
The remit of the committee seems to be very broad. I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater in saying that it is important that the committee operates on a need-to-know basis. I do not think that that extends to detailed operational matters. It would be a great onus on the members of the committee if they knew about detailed operational matters because if, by some misfortune, they were to let any of that information slip it could result in agents being betrayed and killed. That is not a responsibility which I would want.
I think back to the time of the Gulf war. If my right hon. Friend and I had made one small mistake in the information that we gave, we could have put men's lives in
Column 184danger. That is not a responsibility which I should like to have if I were a member of the committee. I would not wish to be continuously apprised of all the secret information about operational matters. Parliament needs to scrutinise the considerable sums of money that are spent by the security services--as the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) mentioned. It is right that Parliament has a scrutiny to ensure that we obtain value for money.
It is important for the committee to convince itself that correct procedures are being followed in operational matters, but it is more important than anything else to have some parliamentary input into the setting of priorities in the operations of our security and intelligence services. The pattern of threats to our security changes daily. It does no harm to broaden the debate about what our priorities should be, where the money should be spent and where people should be deployed and things done. It is difficult to achieve a balance in the allocation of resources to our intelligence services. I believe that it would be of great benefit if that debate were broadened by a parliamentary committee, so I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friends on bringing it forward.
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : The right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) has a well-deserved reputation in the House for parliamentary candour, but he took quite a few breaths away a few moments ago when he announced that what he had told us so recently from the Front Bench about the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was something which he did not really believe. That is characteristic of him.
I recall a celebrated occasion, before the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell was a Minister, when he presented to the House a petition on behalf of his constituents opposing the construction of the M25, and a week later he popped up and presented another petition on behalf of his constituents in favour of the construction of the M25. There were puzzled faces in the House. I well remember his saying that we were entitled to know his own position, and that he had decided resolutely to remain on the fence as it was the only comfortable place to be in the circumstances. I believe, therefore, that he has demonstrated, then and again this afternoon, that he would be an excellent member of the committee that is proposed in the Bill.
I must not be tempted to stray from the few words that I want to address to the House. Let me begin by saying, on behalf of the Liberal Democrat party, that I join the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to the work of the intelligence services at every level. The fact that we are discussing scrutiny mechanisms is not a reflection on their dedication or competence. I pay all members of the intelligence services, past and present, full tribute--including the 14 sacked trade unionists at GCHQ Cheltenham, a subject to which I will return later.
My party gives an unqualified welcome to the principle of the Bill. We will support it tonight, because we have a long-standing policy and a long- standing view that there is a need for parliamentary scrutiny of the security services.
My mind goes back to when our anxieties were first provoked. It was during the period of the Labour Government--I think it was the Labour Government under Harold Wilson--when there was great anxiety in the
Column 185House, in the press and among the public about the scale of telephone tapping. Naturally, it was impossible to get Ministers to answer on the subject and no one knew whether the scale of telephone tapping, which was excessive, was authorised or unauthorised. There was no way in which the anxieties of the House could be resolved. If we had had a committee at that time, it would at least have been able to make a report on the matter.
Our view was that the proper course was to have a committee of Privy Councillors, and that was the view that we took when I was leader of the party. I will say later why we took that view. As recently as the passage of the Security Service Act 1989, the lack of parliamentary scrutiny caused us to vote against the legislation. I therefore welcome the Government's change of heart and the broad outline of the Bill, but I wish to ask some questions, which I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will answer later, about the definition of expenditure, administration and policy, the words used in the Bill.
First, we need to be sure how wide are the remits and the powers of the scrutiny that is proposed. As to policy, for example, reference has already been made to events in Iraq before the invasion of Kuwait. To what extent were the security services involved in the decisions ? I do not want to trespass on the ground being covered by the Scott inquiry, but it is obvious that the intelligence services must have given advice to Ministers about the process of rearming Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war, as a counterbalance, supposedly, to the growing power of Iran.
Secondly, there is the subject of GCHQ and unionisation there. A few months ago, it appeared that the Government were likely to reach some agreement on the basis of a no-strike agreement at GCHQ, but that possibility fizzled out and came to nothing. Will the committee be able to consider a happy resolution of that matter as a matter of policy ?
I agree with the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell about priorities. Will the committee be able to examine the remit of the security services, especially in the sectors of political surveillance and the internal political intelligence role ? I ask that question because of what was said by the former Home Secretary, my noble Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, when he recounted in another place his experience, which he could best describe as "an inherent lack of frankness, an ingrowing mono-culture and a confidence-destroying tendency to engage in the most devastating internal feuds"
-- pretty strong language from someone who was in charge of the service. He argued that he was doubtful about the internal political intelligence role. He said that he assumed that the object was to help Ministers with useful information, but he went on to say that, in his experience,
"the organisation concerned consumed far more of"
"time as a Minister with its own internal squabbles than any useful information which it ever provided. The balance was distinctly negative."-- [ Official Report , House of Lords, 9 December 1993 ; Vol. 550, c. 1034.]
That is merely the view of one former Home Secretary, but we must take it seriously. I should have thought that one of the early objectives of the new committee should be to ensure that the policy of the services in those spheres was correct. I should like confirmation of how wide the definition of policy is to be.
Column 186Similarly, is what we all know to be the widespread practice that was revealed in the Matrix Churchill case--the employment of business men in foreign countries as part-time agents--a sensible form of administration ? Will the committee ever enjoy the power of the relative committee in the United States Congress of overseeing the appointment of senior officials ? Is that to be part of administration ? Will the committee be able to examine individual cases ? I am referring not to complaints of the kind to be dealt with by the tribunal but to individual operational cases that have gone wrong--not current cases--in order that lessons may be learnt for the future.
I was not happy with the Foreign Secretary's reply to my intervention. I should like to know whether the committee, like the commissioner, will be able to question the use, and the scale of use, of warrants issued by the Secretaries of State or whether that matter is to be reserved for the commissioner and denied to the committee. If so, that would be wrong. We need a little more clarification of what is meant by administration.
As for expenditure, various figures have been bandied about. The largest that I have heard is £900 million, which I find difficult to believe. The cold war has ended and, although that does not necessarily mean that all threats have disappeared, the taxpayer has the right to ask who is scrutinising the expenditure. The former Secretary of State for Defence gave us an insight into a meeting with a Chief Secretary about a public expenditure round which he thought was unsatisfactory. Clearly there is a great deal of work to be done.
Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former Foreign Secretary, said that there was a danger that the intelligence services would find new targets to replace those that had gone, in order to keep people busy. I do not think that that is too much of a danger. Like, I am sure, many others, I am deeply disappointed by the global picture left after the end of the cold war. There are new areas where the intelligence services are, sadly, now needed in order to find out exactly what is going on following the disintegration of the cold war super-power structure. I believe that the great majority of people will accept that the security services are needed in the war against drugs and terrorism and against arms traffic, particularly the traffic of nuclear and chemical weapons. However, if the secret service is to be worth having, it must remain secret, and here I come back to the difficulty of how the committee will operate. To be fair, the Government have made a pretty good stab at solving the problem, but they have not necessarily got it quite right yet. I hope that they will be generous in Committee in allowing consideration of the many suggestions, some of which have been made today and others that will no doubt be made in the form of amendments.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) that if the committee is not covered by privilege--I do not understand why it should not be--it must be. If it does not yet have the power to send for persons and papers, such a power should be written into the Bill in Committee because the committee will not be able to operate effectively without it.
I suspect that I shall be in a minority, and I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in this case, but I believe that there is a case for the committee's being composed of Privy Councillors. I do not say that because I believe that they have any particular wisdom, and I do not share the view that they belong to a cosy, conspiratorial club, but,
Column 187unless the members are Privy Councillors, we might find that the fact that there are non-Privy Councillors on the committee is used as an excuse for failing to provide the committee with the information that it needs. I think I am right in saying that one of the members of the Franks inquiry was made a Privy Councillor after his appointment so that that very danger could be avoided. The House should consider the matter very carefully.
I am also concerned about the reference in the schedules to how the members of the committee are to be fired. There is a reference to members vacating their post if required to do so by the Prime Minister. In other words, the House will have no say in the matter, which will be decided by Prime Minister's fiat. One is bound to ask the rather odd question, what security of office will the members of the security committee have ? If there are awkward members on the committee--the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) catches my eye, and he is a good example--will they find that their security of tenure suddenly comes to an end ? I do not have an easy solution, but we should explore the problem further in Committee.
I shall make two final points relating to the committee's access to information. Schedule 3 refers to the fact that information may be denied to the committee if the Secretary of State has determined that it should not be disclosed. The phrase "Secretary of State" in an Act is a term of art, but we are entitled to know how many Secretaries of State are covered by that term. Presumably, it will not cover only the Foreign and Home Secretaries--it is likely that a large number could decide that the committee must be denied information. I should like further clarification of that issue.
The right hon. Member for Dudley, East mentioned the report that the committee will make to the Prime Minister. I agree with his description of what should occur in the nature of bargaining about its contents-- "bargaining" is perhaps the wrong word ; I mean "intelligent discussion"-- and about what may or may not be sidelined, but I believe strongly that if the committee disagrees with the Prime Minister at any point about what should be in the report, the fact of that disagreement must be made known to the House. The right hon. Member for Dudley, East shakes his head, but it is important that both Houses--the committee will comprise Members of both Houses--should be told of any disagreement between the Prime Minister and the watchdog body that we are proposing to establish.
It is not an easy matter and I do not subscribe to the view that the committee should be a routine Select Committee. It must be unique in its authority, style and powers and it is important that in Committee the Government are generous in considering suggestions to improve the mechanism, which, as a whole, I warmly welcome. 6.7 pm
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : I welcome the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the way in which he presented it. He did so very fairly and he has done something that no one else in politics has ever done--he has brought the security services to the attention of the public and allowed what has often been the dark room of the secret services to be opened up.
Column 188I shall refer to a few of the items mentioned by the former leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not do so immediately.
What is to be welcomed in the Bill? For the first time, the public can know that a committee is to be structured to oversee the expenditure, the administration and the policy of all the intelligence services and Government communication headquarters. Although not a parliamentary committee, it is sensible for it to be composed of senior Members of Parliament, not only from the party in government but from the parties in opposition. For the first time, the functions and purposes of the intelligence services are to be scrutinised and their finances inspected and commented on by persons outside the establishment circle of the Prime Minister, the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for Defence and the Home Secretary.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) centred on clause 10 and schedule 3. Mine will do the same. I am pleased that the committee will not investigate individual complaints that may be made against the intelligence services. That is to be done elsewhere. If the committee had to deal with those, heaven knows where it would be.
It seems to have been fair game for anyone to criticise the secret services and to make allegations that, on the whole--unless the Prime Minister sees fit to intervene, which more or less never happens--are not rebutted. It seems to have been open season for people to write whatever they like. That situation should not be accepted, now or in the future, and the Bill takes a giant step towards blocking that loophole. Equally, full and detailed criticism of the policy and overall management of any of the services can now be assessed and examined in a way that has never been possible before. That should be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, as it has been so far.
There is some disagreement about whether the committee should be a Select Committee. However, there is no doubt that if the committee is to do its job properly, most of the time it will be considering highly confidential information of particular concern for the security of the country as a whole. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that over the past three or four years there have been a great many leaks from the reports of Select Committees and that although they have been investigated by the Select Committees concerned and referred both to the Procedure Committee and to the Liaison Committee, it has not been possible to do anything to stop them. Indeed, the press has refused to refrain from publishing leaks of details from draft reports, which often have no real standing, and such leaks continue to be published.
Could not leaks from the committee--
Could not leaks from the new committee cause great harm to the work of the intelligence services and to the interests of the country? I suspect that in the real world much confidential and secret material would not be made available to the committee if it were a House of Commons Select Committee. That is sad, but, at the moment, true.
Column 189leaky, albeit selectively, over the past 10 years or so--to the extent that journalists have been able to write books apparently with corroboration by its serving members. Should not the rules apply to everyone, rather than to Parliament alone?
I shall now deal with the manning of the committee. Six seems a sensible number ; it should not be too large. I am glad that there is to be a member of the other place on the committee, but I urge that that person should not have to be permanently present for there to be a quorum. That would put much too great a load on whoever was nominated.
The Canadian Parliament provides the example that is in many ways closest to our own and I recall that in the late 1970s it went through a similar exercise and decided to have a committee of five. As the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the former leader of the Liberal party, said, everyone on the Canadian committee had to be a Privy Councillor. I believe that there is some benefit in appointing senior Members of Parliament, although perhaps not necessarily Privy Councillors, so that the committee does not appear to be an old establishment club. However, having been appointed, perhaps its members should be made Privy Councillors for the purposes of the committee. If they are good enough to be given the security information, they are probably worthy of such recognition.
If the committee is to carry out its work fully, it will consider much information in great depth, which will be time consuming and will require a great deal of reading. The work could well take half a day every day of the week if it were done fully. The management of an industrial organisation spending £900 million a year would spend that sort of time examining its administration, policies and financing. In that connection, I note that the Bill allows for payment to the commissioner, but not to any of the other members of the committee. That may be all right for Members of the House of Commons, who receive a parliamentary salary, but we in this House might make a case on behalf of the poor member from the House of Lords, who will not have a parliamentary salary and who will be entitled to payment only by attending the other place, which his duties on the committee are likely to prevent him from doing. In Committee, we should consider the possibility of funding for that purpose.
When the committee reports, is it satisfactory that it should do so first and only to the Prime Minister? It is important that the Prime Minister should publish its reports. I was led to understand that he would publish all of them, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to tell us, when he answers the debate, whether that is the case.
I am certain that nothing in the Bill will take away the committee's ability, if dissatisfied with the amount of information vetted and removed from its annual report by the Prime Minister, to return to the subject and, if necessary, to make a further report so that the matter can be considered. Nothing in the Bill takes the ultimate
Column 190responsibility away from the Prime Minister, so it should be the Prime Minister who decides what comes to Parliament. It is right and proper that reporting should work in that way.
Will the Minister give me an assurance that knowledge of documents and the classification of documents will be made available to the new committee? That question arises from certain facts that have emerged in the United States in connection with the working of the Freedom of Information Act. There, it has become evident that information has been upgraded to "secret" or "highly secret" so as to cover up--I use the American term "a balls-up". One can imagine some managers being willing to take that approach here if they have made a mess of their work. We need the Minister to give us an assurance that if there is any evidence or proof that that has happened, the strongest action will be taken against any perpetrator ?
I shall now come quickly to my conclusion, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. Having welcomed the Bill, I have tried to analyse some parts of it. If the Intelligence and Security Committee is to be seen and judged as more than a cosmetic protective facade for the security services, it must be seen to have teeth. I agree with the right hon. Members for Dudley, East and for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale that there is no reason why the committee should not have the same powers as a Select Committee to call for persons and papers. Clearly it will have the power, which we see in use all the time, to call for the heads of the services. Also, in calling for persons and papers, the committee should not be able to call for serving members of the security forces, who must be protected and should be represented by the Minister or by the heads of their departments.
If there is a public outcry about the adminstration of certain aspects of the security forces, whether by the press, journalists or authors, I see every reason for the committee having the power to be able to call before it the perpetrators of those especial accusations so that it is able to inquire more fully. The perpetrators could be invited to appear, but, if they refuse that invitation, the committee ought to have the power to ensure that they attend.
The committee should be staffed adequately and have funds to carry out its duties. That may well mean that it needs to pay advisers for certain aspects of its work. It needs to be able to authorise persons to disclose information that would otherwise be covered by the Official Secrets Act 1989. Paragraph 5 of schedule 4 would amend the existing law by adding the tribunal to the bodies that may give official authorisation to persons to disclose information the disclosure of which would otherwise be unlawful under the Official Secrets Act. Surely, if that power is to be given to the tribunal, it ought also to be given to the committee. Otherwise, certain evidence may not be as apparent as it ought to be.
It must also be seen that the members of the committee are reporting only to the Prime Minister and that, when they are approached, as they will be, by the media on any sort on any matter, they should say only that they are investigating and that they shall be reporting to the Prime Minister. They will be urged to say this, that and the other, and their position will be difficult unless they stand firm and say they have no comments to make on matters, that the investigation is for them and that a report is to be made to the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister publishes that report, the committee members may comment on it,
Column 191but until that point, they should be given the safeguard of not being badgered by the press to make comments about what is or is not being considered by the committee.
Given those powers and that the committee, when appointed, is manned by persons who are known and have been seen to be of independent mien--persons who are considered to be good House of Commons men and, if I may say, the committee should not be a resting place for former senior Ministers--the structure of the Bill will allow the public to have confidence and know that there is adequate supervision so that the nation's security forces are acting for our defence and for the defence of the nation.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : The speech of the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) was so nearly a perfect replica of the Government's position that I have a feeling that he may be destined for a place on this distinguished committee. At one point, I even thought that he was negotiating the remuneration. Should he be so fortunate as to catch the Prime Minister's eye, I am sure that he would make a suitable member.
I welcome the Bill as a first and long-overdue step along the road towards rendering our security establishment democratically accountable. The measures outlined in the Bill provide the barest minimum of accountability, but, when measured against past experience, it is quite a large step forward, since we have never previously taken any forward steps that I have been able to detect.
However, we have a long way to go before our security services are worthy of a modern democracy. What is proposed falls a long way short of what is taken for granted in the United States, Canada, Australia and other democracies which we profess to admire. One of the ironies is that the Russians always seem to know more about our security services than do Parliament or the British people. That was so in the past. I hope that that will not be the case in future, as the Russian services have been a little less efficient recently.
One of the difficulties with the security services has always been that, while demanding the right to absolute secrecy, their members have always felt at liberty to talk to selected journalists and to selected Members of Parliament. However, when the Select Committee on Home Affairs, of which I am a member, asked a while ago whether it could interview the head of MI5, it was initially told by the Home Office that it could not do so under any circumstances and that hell would freeze over before that was possible. I rang round a few newspaper editors and found that the head of MI5 had been dining with them. We also discovered that the previous head of MI5, Sir Patrick Walker, had given the farewell speech at the retirement party of Sir David Nicholas, the former editor of ITN, at the Savoy and had begun his speech with the words :
"My name is Patrick Walker, I am the head of MI5".
When we put that to the Home Secretary, we subsequently received an invitation to lunch with Stella Rimington, for which we were extremely grateful. However, as we said in our report, that was no substitute for proper accountability.
It will not have escaped the attention of students of such matters that over the years--I do not suggest that the problems necessarily exist today, as there has been quite a large clear-out in the past few years, for which we must be grateful--there have been a few problems with our security services. One of the problems in dealing with the security services is that they spend a large amount of public money.
Column 192It is, by and large, unaccounted for, although we have had a few global figures every so often. If one strains over the Terrace, one may have a glimpse of the lavish new MI6 headquarters near Vauxhall bridge and there is the new MI5 building on Millbank which one cannot see from the Terrace.
Having large sums of money and not being accountable to anyone for spending it inevitably leads to bad habits ; it would happen whatever the regime. When the committee studies the financing of the Security Service, it will need to be rigorous, but it is not unknown for security services to exercise some ingenuity in burying inconvenient expenditure in other budgets.
Over the years, there has also been evidence of gross incompetence. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) quoted his hon. Friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead as saying that the security services in his time were much preoccupied with internal feuding. Such evidence as has been published suggests that, for a period in the 1970s and the 1980s, they were paralysed by internal feuding on a scale that one might have expected from small Trotskyist groups. Evidence suggested that they became extremely introverted and their employees only mixed in circles where their views were never seriously challenged, because, for most of the time, they were with people of identical views. A former Tory Home Secretary said to me a while ago that there had been a great deal of dead wood--his expression not mine--but that it had been cleared up a little, and I welcome that.
Secrecy has been used over the years to disguise incompetence, apart from anything else, and we are entitled to know that the vast sums being spent are being spent to achieve proper security of the country and are not financing unrelated ventures. I am not satisfied that the quality of the intelligence service has always been as high as it has been made out to be. I remember during the Gulf war when a number of people of Iraqi origin were seized arbitrarily and plonked in Pentonville prison. Three of them were my constituents, one of whom ran a kebab shop somewhere in Sunderland, which was thought to be subversive to the national interest. They all had to be released eventually because it was discovered that the information supplied by the security services on most, if not all, of those seized, was wholly inaccurate. That does not give us grounds for confidence at the time of a national emergency.
The third problem that is a matter of record is that in years gone by--I hope that it has changed ; indeed, I am confident that it has changed--the security services have been targeted to some extent against members of the elected Government. There was a series of smear campaigns against a former Labour Prime Minister--that has been well documented--a former Home Secretary, Lord Merlyn-Rees, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and the former Conservative Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I do not think that it is right--I am sure that no one would justify this--that persons who are paid to defend the security of the state should waste time and resources on attempting to undermine members of the elected Government.
As recently as three or four years ago--I think it was in 1989 when we were debating the Official Secrets Bill--on the front page of the Sunday Express there was a headline about a lady spy and a Labour Minister and a picture of a noble Lord who defected to the SDP because he was such
Column 193a great threat to our democracy. Obviously, the picture had come from a security source--it had been taken 10 or 20 years previously. I cannot imagine why someone thought it worth while to put the picture on the front pages of the Sunday Express. I think that it was to tell us that not so much had changed as was being alleged.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) : I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman's overall point, but he is repeating what may turn out to be no more than gossip and allegations. I am surprised that he quoted from the Sunday Express. I do not believe everything that I read in newspapers and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not either. I think that a lot of this is possibly a wild allegation.
Mr. Mullin : My point is that the photograph appeared on the front page of the Sunday Express. It is open to the hon. Gentleman to look it up in the Library if he so wishes. I have a copy somewhere--it is not controversial. One can see that the photograph was not taken by a photographer from the Sunday Express. I do not want to make a big deal of what is simply a little illustration of a wider problem. The fourth problem that has been with us over the years is that in the past the security services have been targeted--perhaps Ministers should take responsibility for this--against those engaged in legitimate political activity, and sometimes no political activity at all.
Some years ago, I wrote a novel which was dismissed by some at the time as typical left-wing paranoia. The book shared a similar plot to one written by the Foreign Secretary. He and I have one thing in common--we have both written novels about an attempt by the right wing to destabilise an elected Government. Among the features of my little novel was that all senior employees of the BBC were vetted by MI5. A few years ago, that turned out to be Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham occupying room 103 at Broadcasting House. I had an MI5 agent on the general council of the CND. Some years later, that turned out to be a chap called Harry Newton. As a matter of routine, I had MI5 bugging Labour Ministers. Mr. Peter Wright's book was published some time later and confirmed that at least some of that had occurred. [Interruption.] There was a grain of truth about Mr. Wright's allegations ; otherwise, the Government would not have gone to such lengths to suppress them.
About three or four years ago, I went to lunch with Mr. Marmaduke Hussey, the chairman of the BBC. The purpose of the lunch was to bend my ears and those of a number of my colleagues on the subject of the Broadcasting Bill which was being introduced at the time. Halfway through the lunch, I asked who worked in room 103 now that Brigadier Stoneham had retired. All around the table, one could hear the sound of knives and forks hitting plates. Marmaduke, clearly choking on his smoked salmon, said, "Patricia, I think this one is for you". A lady down the other end of the table said that she thought it was a special assistant to the director-general. I asked, "What is his name and what does he do?"
We had the top brass of the BBC around the table and none of them could name the special assistant, let alone tell us what he did. There were some clumsy attempts to change the subject and I said, "I'll tell you what, why don't I nip down, knock on the door and see?" "Don't do that," they said, "we'll send you a letter." With a little
Column 194prompting, they did. I received a letter in which the BBC was at pains to assure me that everything had changed since Brigadier Stoneham's day. However, it seemed to suggest that a man with a similar background and doing a similar job was still in place there. I wonder whether it is necessary for all senior BBC personnel to be vetted in that way and for some of them--I speak as a former BBC employee--to be honoured with an upturned Christmas tree on their personnel file. I wonder whether that was ever necessary. As we are on the subject, I also wonder how a former head of MI5 came to be so close to the editor of ITN that he was called to give a speech at the man's retirement party. It may be that they are neighbours somewhere down in Surrey or they went to the same school, but there is another explanation that I invite hon. Members to contemplate.
It has been alleged more recently that some of the spare capacity at GCHQ has been used to bug domestic telephones, which is outside its remit. The allegation came from someone who worked in the Cabinet Office until shortly before he made the allegation. I do not know whether that is true--I only know that these matters are part of the problems that we have had with the security services over the years. Another feature is that the security services have engaged in operations that are difficult to justify in terms of national security. I am talking about some of the arms contracts to Iraq, which have already been mentioned, and--I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) is not present, because I have a feeling that he has something to do with this--the training of Khmer terrorists in Thailand by British soldiers. That went on from about 1982 until the present Foreign Secretary came to power--God bless him--and put a stop to it in 1989.
I do not know how that could ever have been justified in terms of national security. We had no possible national security interest unless we owed a few favours to the Americans in return for what they did for us in the Falklands war, which they were calling in.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : Did the hon. Gentleman note the article written by Boris Johnson a week last Sunday in which he suggested that questions of espionage and matters relating to GCHQ and so on had been transferred, as it were, to questions arising out of the European Union, defence questions and all these other matters? Given the hon. Gentleman's interest in national security, does he regard it as significant, interesting or absurd that we are apparently transferring responsibility even to the European Union, raising questions of treason?
I mentioned all the past problems that we have had with the security services because they are a matter of record. It is also a matter of record that when caught, they have casually lied about what they did in the past, as they did to Lord Callaghan. When Lord Callaghan instituted an inquiry at the end of the 1970s, he was grossly misled about what was going on. When the security services do not lie, they sometimes suppress evidence that is inconvenient to the official version of events. The Matrix Churchill case is possibly the best, most recent example of that.
Column 195The test of the Bill will be the extent to which it helps us to resolve those problems and change the culture in the security services. The culture may have already changed to some extent. Perhaps we would not have the Bill if it had not already changed, so we must be grateful for small mercies.
Under clause 8 of the Bill, a commissioner will be appointed to report to the Prime Minister, and a tribunal will be appointed to deal with complaints. As has already been said, those are features of other legislation. A tribunal was set up under the Interception of Communications Act 1985. I believe that I am right in saying--the Minister will put me right if I am not--that that tribunal has never upheld a complaint in its nine-year history.
The Security Service Commissioner was set up under the legislation in 1989. The Foreign Secretary, in opening the debate, said that the commissioner had given him a hard time--I think rigorous was the word used by the right hon. Gentleman. It was not so rigorous that any word reached the outside world, or was reflected in the rather bland reports that sometimes find their way into the Library.
There are two possibilities. The first is that both the previous complaints tribunal and the one under the Bill are presiding over a nearly perfect system. That may explain why no complaint has ever been upheld at any of the tribunals. The other is that perhaps the scrutiny that they have exercised so far has not been as rigorous as it should.
The Intelligence and Security Committee, which will be set up under clause 10, has been referred to by other hon. Members. The committee will have six Members appointed, and dismissed, by the Prime Minister. It will report to the Prime Minister, who may exclude any item he wishes before a report is laid before Parliament. The committee will deal with expenditure, administration and policy, but not operations.
No hon. Member can seriously expect that the committee should have a detailed knowledge of operations. Clearly that does not make sense, but there is a grey area between operations and policy as was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). When does a policy become an operation, and therefore outside the remit of the committee? Brigadier Stoneham and his heirs at the BBC--are they a policy or an operation? That area ought to come within the remit of the committee. I would hate committee members to be told after raising a subject that it was an operation and outside their remit.
I share the view given by most hon. Members that the committee should be a Select Committee, which is appointed by, and accountable to, Parliament.